Once Upon a Time in France
Based on a true story, Once Upon a Time in France follows the life of Joseph Joanovici, a Romanian Jew who immigrated to France in the 1920s and became one of the richest men in Europe as a scrap-metal magnate. For some, he was a villain. For others, a hero.
As Germany occupies France, Mr. Joseph thinks his influence can keep his family safe, but he soon finds that the only way to stay one step ahead of the Nazis is to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. Though he plays both sides of the fence as a Nazi collaborator and French resistant, a tangled web of interests forms around him that proves it will take a lot more than money to pay for the survival of his family.
Once Upon a Time in France is a carefully thought out exploration of the fragility of the relationship between survivalist instincts and morality, rendered in exquisite detail. In spite of the presence of Nazis, this book is not one of heroes and villains but rather one of people. Joseph Joanovici is a character that never lets the reader get quite comfortable throughout his narrative trajectory. One moment, he is a shameless war profiteer and the next a liberator of his fellow Jews trapped in occupied France. His collaboration with the Nazi occupiers saves many lives in his immediate locale but at what cost? Who, in the end, pays the price? These are just some of the questions that Once Upon a Time in France asks.
A nearly circular narrative, ending where it begins, the reader follows the story across multiple time periods in a way that can be jarring. These transitions are not always clearly marked and occasionally leave the reader somewhat lost. While that type of confusion is typically critique, in the case of Once Upon a Time in France, it could be seen as a strength. The question of just how far is too far when it comes to matters of survival is complicated by these time shifts, from pre-war to wartime, all the way to post-war and Joseph’s eventual death. It begs the question of a sliding scale for morality. Does the ‘when’ of the action matter when it comes to matters of life and death?
The artwork throughout is gorgeously detailed and Vallée is responsible for much of the emotional impact of the text through his subtle expression work on the faces of the characters. Disgust, fear, shame, deviousness, delight—each expression is palpable thanks to Vallée’s deft hand. The layouts, while varied, veer towards a sort of wide-panel storytelling mode that was made popular in the late 1990s that lends a cinematic feel to the story. Given the size of the stage and the gravity of the tale being told, this particular mode of storytelling felt as appropriate here as it would in a more action-oriented narrative while still maintaining enough sense of itself to slow down the pacing with smaller panels when necessary.
Originally published in French between 2007 and 2012 in six volumes, the Dead Reckoning imprint of the Naval Institute Press presents this internationally acclaimed, award-winning graphic narrative in a stunning omnibus collection. There is a heft to this volume, printed at standard magazine dimensions (I assume the original publications were magazine sized as well although I’ve never seen them). There is definite craftsmanship put into this collection making it well worth the $29.95 cover price. A quality printing of a highly recommended read, Once Upon a Time in France is well worth your time and money.
Once Upon a Time in France (Nury, Vallée) is released in a stunning omnibus edition from Dead Reckoning, telling the story of Joseph Joanovici, a Romanian Jew in occupied France during WWII who manage to play both sides of the war in his efforts to survive.
Once Upon a Time in France Omnibus: “What Heroism, What Horrors”
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8/108/10
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